The Phoenix Suns are 32-21, sitting in 6th place in the West and showing no signs of folding up the tent.
"These guys believe they can win every game," coach Jeff Hornacek said before last night's win over Boston. "Even when they are down, they never give up."
Hornacek has been saying those words since the Summer Suns went 7-1. He kept saying it when the national pundits predicted a last-place finish but the Suns went 5-2 in preseason. He continued the mantra when the Suns started the season 5-2. He said it again when they went 10-3 in December after a lull in late November.
He continues to say it while the Suns have gone 13-10 since losing their second-best player Eric Bledsoe as the team's young players alternate between lackadaisical periods as a result of playing more minutes than at any time in their career. Only Goran Dragic and P.J. Tucker have refused to get tired. Everyone else has either struggled through a mental wall or physical one, the latest victim being Miles Plumlee.
But still they win, thanks to devising a scheme to show off the team's strengths.
"You can’t make errors against them," Boston coach Brad Stevens said after the loss to the Suns. "Because they are coming and they are coming fast and hard. For all of us from the Northeast that travel down here, we can all agree that [Phoenix] pushes it harder or as hard as any team we’ve seen all year. Even more so then it looked on film."
Earlier in the evening, Stevens pointed out the Suns formula: "They play nine guys, sometimes Len. Out of those nine, seven shoot it great and the other two are dynamite to the rim. The two that I'm talking about are Plumlee and Ish Smith. The rest of them are very capable of going for big nights behind the arc."
He expounded on Goran Dragic as well: "If there was one guy that should have been an All-Star that wasn't, it's [Goran Dragic]. He clearly deserved to be honored for his play. You talk about GUYS, is there a guy on the team you're playing against - he's a GUY. He's playing like a guy does and that's powerful in this league."
So why mess with a good thing?
Eric Bledsoe is getting closer and closer to a return. Coach Hornacek said earlier this week that Bledsoe is ramping up his workouts on a daily basis, and that once he's medically cleared he'd only be 3-4 days from playing.
There is no reason to think that the Suns can't play at their 10-3 level in December once Bledsoe is back to form. That's adding a near All-Star right there, without making any moves.
Yet, there are opportunities to improve.
For one thing, the production from these young guys is a bit inconsistent. While it's fun to say that anyone can go off on any given night, you can bet the coaching staff would prefer night-to-night consistency. Not necessarily in the form of shot-making, but at least in the form of effort and focus.
"You can't take plays off," Hornacek said before the game. He was referring to the Suns allowing easy baskets to Boston after taking 8-point or 10-point leads to allow Boston life. "You get a 10-point lead, you should want to push it to 13 or 14."
You get the feeling that Hornacek would love a team full of P.J. Tucker, Gerald Green and Goran Dragic type players - not the highest skill set but huge, consistent motors.
“Shhh… We don’t want anyone to go after him when he’s a free agent," Hornacek said after the Boston game when asked how much he likes Tucker. "No, PJ is a workhorse – he plays hard, he brings the intensity all the time. He’s got a knack for the ball and when he’s determined to get it he goes and gets it. He’s made some big plays for us last night and then again tonight. We love what he brings to us in terms of leadership, energy, toughness, he’s been invaluable.”
He has said highly positive things about Gerald Green's effort as well as Goran Dragic's all season as well. That's why Green gets 42 minutes despite going 2-16 from the floor (Knicks loss) - he's always giving every ounce he has.
Just like adding Leandro Barbosa in January to provide consistency from that ninth position - at the expense of 19 year old Archie Goodwin - the Suns might add a veteran small forward or power forward today who can come off the bench and provide consistent effort game to game, play to play.
There is also the possibility of a home run today - someone like Kevin Love, or even a lesser talent like Luol Deng. The Suns would love to improve the talent level at the power forward position and both players would do that, but in different ways.
While Deng would provide defense, hustle and moxie that effort-loving coach Thom Thibodeau adored, Love would provide that future All-Star the Suns still lack.
This type of trade at the deadline is much less likely, though it's been done as recently as Deron Williams going to the Nets out of the blue once he made it clear he wanted to leave. No one knew Williams was available, but suddenly he was traded.
A curveball could be Rajon Rondo. Suns GM Ryan McDonough clearly loves him and might want Rondo's production over Eric Bledsoe's promise. Rondo is another who plays great defense and consistent hustle and he's one of the league's best passers, but he's not a great shooter or finisher at the rim - two staples in the Suns' offense.
While you might see the Suns make a low-level trade to acquire someone for the bench rotation to take minutes from one of the Morrii, the likelihood of a home run is minimal.
Still, we can dream.
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